Most humans might agree that humans should go on existing. The individual usually feels strongly that at least they should live, which doesn’t completely spoil the point.
But why? What’s so great about humans anyway? Note that I’m not asking what’s good about life, just about us human-people-folk. We see the damage we do to the environment and each other and can’t seem to collectively stop. Given this admittedly one-sided and potentially unfair characterization, why might we deserve to exist?
One hope: change is inevitable. As we are now, we will not always be. Either by way of environmental forces and subsequent adaptations or by a more direct route through our own machinations. Or maybe we won’t be at all.
For the sake of me continuing to have something to write about, let’s say humans stop existing. Dealer’s choice on the cause.
What might happen to all the other life on this planet if humans disappeared? Earth and the Universe, as much as we know, got on just fine before humans. We might expect the same to occur if we disappeared.
Maybe, eventually, another intelligent species would evolve on par or even superior to ours. It may face the challenges we did and succeed where we failed. This new intelligence would anticipate global disasters and disasters on the cosmic scale and be focused and prepared to deal with them.
We are aware that such chaos is inevitable, for example, the expansion and eventual collapse of our nearest star. Unless Spock drops by with some red matter, this event will result in the destruction of the planet and all life on it.
Smile! The complete death of the Sun is 5 billion years away. You’re still here. For now.
If our successor is able to save itself from this end, one hopes they would also consider saving as many other life forms as possible. In which case, the legacy of the planet once called Earth by a species that lived a very, very, very brief time on it, would spread out among the universe to face new challenges and other inevitabilities. Life would go on, sans humans.
If that superior intelligence never comes about, however, all life and most record of it will burn away with the rest of the planet that housed it. Our various probes on other planets, those floating through space and the echoes of our radio transmissions continue on.
At this point, we don’t know if any other life exists outside of Earth, as such our total disappearance could mean either an insignificant group of living things among many, many other living things present in the universe has died or, a slightly less insignificant occurrence, in which the only collection of life anywhere has been eliminated. In either case, the only beings likely saddened by either outcome are us, and the experience of that sadness wouldn’t last very long at all.
From our 21st Century perspective, then, there seems no reason to freak out about an exploding Sun.
…but threats from asteroids, climate change, global warfare, overpopulation, etc.…
Maybe you feel everything should die out as some natural consequence of having been alive. Maybe you feel that past a certain point our interventions might make us less “human” relative to our current state.
Those are both valid and understandable things to feel, but I disagree with them.
I wonder sometimes if a view that fears making us less “human” isn’t based upon a belief that we’re somehow the pinnacle of humanness? Or more likely that we’re screwing with the creation of a deity. I’d argue that from the moment we began using tools to affect the world around us, we also began pulling ourselves out of this perceived “natural” order. If you’ve ever been seriously ill and elected to have medical intervention to prolong your life, surely that wasn’t a “natural” process.
Maybe you agree it’s, in a way, our duty as the best chance life on this planet currently has for surviving a global extinction event, that we should do something about it. Maybe you also fear we’re the most likely cause of such an event. What should we be doing to give ourselves and other life the best shot of not going extinct before we have to majorly upgrade our sunblock’s SPF?
Maybe we consider global cooperation over competition? Maybe? We’re going to have to at some point. Unless we’re okay with Planet America,Planet China, Planet Russia, etc., or we’ll be left with Planet no longer supports life. We’re social creatures, yet also ingrained in us is a fear of otherness, which I suppose feeds into our desire to be included and not be considered an “other”. I believe cooperation is going to be essential to future success. Not our traditional form of one-hand-behind-our-back-with-fingers-crossed cooperation, total cooperation.
Our biology will have to be altered. In our stock biological bodies, we can’t survive outside of our protective mother earth. Eventually, technology will exist to change that. Debates will rage, and they will be necessary, but as the basis for this argument, humans have to become multi-planetary and to do so means changing more than just our space ships. It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of how soon.
If humans are to leave this planet, local road maps and your subway rewards card (and you were just one more punch away from a free sandwich) won’t be the only things becoming obsolete. We’ll have to shed several hundred centuries worth of accumulated bad habits. Part of doing so, will be the acceptance that there are certain things we can only hope humanity will retain no matter what changes in appearance and composition may occur over the centuries. Namely, if cyborg-citizen Jeff, in some distant future has a capacity for feeling love as you or I may feel it, I would say we’ve done well.
Courage, compassion, and curiosity; our best qualities. Qualities worthy of keeping alive in the universe, the qualities that will enable us to continue surviving if we are to survive at all.
Our biological ancestors had the courage to crawl ashore, climb down from the trees, walk out of the caves, run across continents and sail across oceans to build civilizations. Our drive to explore and create, and a continued courage to do so, will save us. Detaching ourselves not from the desire to live, but from the desire to live above others will save everything that can be saved.
In the end, my case for humans is, admittedly, a flimsy and unavoidably self-indulgent one. Preserving our best qualities and as much of the diversity of life on this planet from certain eventual extinction is a noble goal, but at our current rate, how much will be destroyed before we get to that level? Pushing our technological limits without also working on our worst habits is a recipe for certain disaster. We must continue to fight for a freer and more open society based less on competing religious and political dogmas and more on reason, science and the qualities that truly make us great.
What else can we do? Go back into the caves? Fine, if you choose, but a day will come when they won’t be there. It likely won’t affect you, but your great-great-great…great grandchildren probably won’t be happy with you. The future depends upon our decisions and actions. Our individual lives mean as much to the people of the future as they do to ourselves.
The picture at the top of this page is the first picture of Earth taken from the vicinity of the moon by the Lunar Orbiter I in 1966.
That picture gives me hope. It represents another side of what humans are capable of. Of course, the space race of the 50s, 60s, and 70s was driven by competition, but its successes might not have been possible so quickly without cooperation between scientists not born only in America. And that was just for a visit to the Moon.
I’m hopeful that our problems will eventually work out with a positive outcome for humanity. I’m hopeful, not sure. I can imagine that most problems will last far after I’m gone. I can imagine there will be problems we face that will require major cooperation in order to be solved. On a smaller scale every day as people from different countries and cultures work together to make things and as the world continues to shrink, I’m hopeful that we’ll see more collaboration and deeper connections from solving our biggest problems together. And with a lot of luck, who knows what’s possible for humans to see in a few centuries.
To borrow a quote,
“Death is so terribly final, while life is full of possibilities.”
– George R.R. Martin via Tyrion Lannister